George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Photo © Paul Kolnik
Orpheus occupies a singular place in the history of New York City Ballet. The score was commissioned from Stravinsky by Ballet Society, and the composer worked in close collaboration with Balanchine on the ballet — a contemporary treatment of the story of Orpheus, the musician-poet of Greek myth, and his struggle to rescue his wife Eurydice from Hades.
The lyre, given to Orpheus by Apollo, the god of music, is the ancient and timeless symbol of music, dance, poetry, and song. This seminal ballet represents the only collaboration between Balanchine, Noguchi, who designed the sets and costumes, and Stravinsky. It was a performance of this work that led Morton Baum, chairman of the executive committee of the City Center of Music and Drama, to invite Ballet Society to become its permanent ballet company: New York City Ballet. Orpheus was presented with Concerto Barocco and Symphony in C at the Company’s first performance on October 11, 1948.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), born in Russia, is acknowledged as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. His work encompassed styles as diverse as Romanticism, Neoclassicism, and Serialism. His ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes included The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, and Apollo. His music has been used in over thirty ballets originating with New York City Ballet from 1948 through 1987, including Danses Concertantes, Orpheus, The Cage, Agon, Monumentum pro Gesualdo, Rubies, Symphony in Three Movements, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat, Concertino, and Jeu de Cartes.